How to improve your willpower and why is it so important to be done? In this post you will find the answers to all these questions. There are many definitions of willpower. My definition is the following. Willpower is a measure of personality ability to embody into reality the intentions dictated by considerations of reasonable planning, despite the short-term momentum (desires, habits, weaknesses, emotions, fears, etc.).
This may sound as a complicated and unwieldy definition, but, in fact, if we look at some specific examples, it becomes clear what I am saying.
Theory – Why Do We Need Willpower?
For example, you decided to quit smoking (instead of “to quit smoking” you can place any other purpose: to lose weight, to stop drinking alcohol, to work harder, to start going in for sports, etc.). You have the intention (to give up cigarettes), which is based on reasonable desire to live a more healthy life, live longer, spend less money on cigarettes.
This intention is confronted by the smoking habit, by desire to indulge your weakness and by positive emotions associated with smoking. It depends on your willpower whether you will be able to ignore short-term desires for the sake of achieving long-term goals, whether you manage to quit smoking and stay healthy.
It’s like a tug-of-war. On the one hand you have long-term plans that reflect the natural tendencies of personality, on the other hand – momentary desires and instincts. Roughly speaking, it is a struggle of the mind against the body.
The mind says: smoking is harmful, people die because of this. You should get up early to be able to do everything you have to. You should eat less to be healthy and beautiful.
The body answers: there is nothing more pleasant then a morning cigarette with coffee, maybe you can afford such a pleasure? Why should you get up so early? Go back to sleep! Eat this delicious cake, after all you’re hungry! Who cares the fact that it is 2:00 AM already?
Desires of Lower and Higher Levels
This is a desire opposition of lower and higher levels. When asking the question whether you want to go to fast food restaurants or not, sometimes my wife answers: I want, but I don’t want. She means that, on the one hand, her brain wants to treat the pleasure connected with the absorption of available and tasty (due to food supplements) food (lower desires), but on the other hand – she doesn’t want to ruin her health with greasy food and thus getting fat (higher desires).
The more developed our willpower is, the more easily we win against our body, gaining a victory of the highest desires over the lowest ones – within each action, within each undertaking. The weaker our willpower is, the more difficult is to resist weaknesses, habits and the lowest needs of our body.
Lack of willpower is the Lack of Freedom
A person with a weak willpower risks becoming a slave of his body and his habits. Being conducted by blind instincts, he will no longer have the right to choose.
If the body ordered to sleep till noon, then the person would do it, even if he has some important things to do at this time.
If the body ordered to eat, then the person would ram the third burger down his throat, even if his butt can’t get into the elevator and he cannot mount the stairs because of short-breathing.
If the body orders to drink booze, then the person drinks until he is out of this world and until his liver “bursts”.
Though, such a person may be well aware of his problems and the way they lead to. Perhaps, he even wants to get rid of them, to start a new life, to gain freedom from desires, but it doesn’t lie to his hand. He lacks the strength to say to his desires: “No, today I’ll decide what to do, you would order no more!”, because the person’s willpower is not developed.
Therefore he suffers: his intentions are not implemented and plans are not performed. This, you see, is not the most enviable position.
Is It Possible to Develop Your Willpower?
The good news is that willpower can be developed. Everyone can gain control over his desires, no matter how neglected his situation and his weakness might be.
Just a few years ago, I myself suffered a complete lack of self-discipline. I was disorganized, scattered and lazy. I could not do any work for a long time, because it bored me quickly. I found it difficult to cope with laziness: I had absolutely no desire to do anything. I could not cope with my habits: I smoked and drank a lot.
This negatively affected the quality of my life. The internal disorder generates the external one.
Several times I was on the brink of expulsion from the university. I badly passed examinations because I was not prepared. I simply could not make myself do it. I could be busy with trifles: aimlessly browsing the Internet, drinking beer and watching dumb TV series instead of studying.
I did not get along with the job because my fingers were all thumbs. I could not make myself do anything.
Now, everything is much better in my life: I am healthy, I am happy with my work; I do not drink, do not smoke and do not use other drugs. Everything is in the past. After all, you can see this website, which took me a lot of time and effort.
This costed and still costs me great strong-willed efforts. Almost every day I make myself work, overstepping laziness. Willpower gave me the opportunity to reach my goal.
I want to develop the website, I want to help people and I do it.
I wanted to quit smoking and drinking – I did it.
I want to develop myself. Therefore I refine myself every day: I meditate, I go in for sports, yoga, I read books.
I implement my plans now instead of shelving because of laziness.
I want to do it, I can do it and I do it.
The formulation expresses the great freedom that willpower gives us. The willpower can serve as a good basis for good health, strong relationships, personal happiness and well-being.
Why is So Difficult to Gain Power Over the Desires?
Our body is an amazing example of nature design solutions. Our organism informs us in due time about the emerging needs, supports the tissue metabolism, processes some substances and produces the other ones, similar to a big laboratory.
And all this is done in an automatic mode. We do not have to control, for example, the process of delivering nutrients from stomach to other parts of the body. All these occur by themselves, without affecting our consciousness.
All these processes have been “designed” by evolution with an astonishing thoroughness and have been encoded in our genetic code.
The automatic and unconscious mechanisms of the organism are very smart and sophisticated, as a supercomputer. But, like the mindless machine, they are strongly limited in opportunities, if they are not supported by the human mind.
No matter how smart a computer might be, it can be infected with a virus that makes it perform the same operation in a circle, until all memory resources will be used.
The problem can be solved only by the person – machine operator, programmer. The computer does not think about the fact that it starts the malicious program once again; it does it without thinking, because it has no consciousness.
Wisdom and Folly of Our Body
The same happens to our body. No matter how difficult it might be developed, its work requires the intervention of the mind. For example, you are a smoker. The nicotine action provokes your brain to produce substances that are responsible for pleasure feelings.
If the body gets used to nicotine, then without its participation these substances are less produced and you feel the desire to smoke, as a response to the body needs to resume the chemical exchange.
Everyone knows that smoking is harmful. Everyone is well aware that smoking leads to disease and death. However, the body continues blindly to require a new dose of unnecessary and harmful substances for it, just as it requires water or food that are really necessary for its activity.
The body performs mindless malicious program at the level of the brain chemical exchange, like a regular computer infected with a virus.
Mind can give the command to stop the program. Whether it will be performed or not – depends on your will.
Another example of such irrational behavior of the organism can be found in our unwillingness to get up early and do the exercises. Morning exercises are useful for our body. They awaken and tone the body.
Then why, if it is so useful, the body opposes it, and sometimes incredible efforts of will are necessary to make ourselves get up and move?
Once again, we deal with unconscious algorithms of our body. The body got used to react to danger actively. Why would it put itself in motion when you are not in danger? You slug in a warm bed in a very safe environment!
You might say: to cheer up and benefit your health. But the body does not know it. It is guided by the present moment, considerations of immediate need and invariable algorithm of work!
Only the mind possesses the feeling of mental perspective, knowledge and experience. It knows that sport is useful, and smoking is harmful. The mind suggests that it would be better if you stop smoking and start exercising instead.
The mind is on the other side of the unconditional, blind reflexes of the body, and the will implements its plans.
The willpower allows you to do things you do not want (desire of the lowest level), but you have to (the highest motives).
Why Do You Have to Train Your Body?
Constant indulgence of your body and of your lowest desires turns into a habit over time. The more you are led by momentary weakness, emotions and laziness, the greater is the power of these forces over you. It’s like a drug addiction.
That is the reason why for lazy people it is so difficult to pull themselves together. Even the thought of starting moving somewhere and getting over themselves inspires fear because they are too much attached to their body desires.
The body must be kept under constant control and must be trained. Only then you can become independent of your sordid desires and stop being hostage of the present moment!
I’m sure that many people do not eat meat not because of the exaggerated feeling of pity for the animals, but because their body desire do not have such a key role for them, as it has for the others.
If so, then the highest needs (reasons for healthy lifestyle, ethics, religion) are beginning to prevail over the lowest ones (to enjoy the usual food, to fill the stomach). This is the purpose of willpower, self-discipline and one of the goals of self-development in general!
I am not a vegetarian, because, to my opinion, you cannot get all the necessary vitamins (B12, D) from vegetable food. But, recently, I strongly limited the consumption of meat in favor of a healthy food. I eat only fish, but I do not eat it every day.
Earlier I had meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I could not imagine a different order of things.
I’m not a passionate animal defender and not a fanatical preacher of a healthy lifestyle. I do not eat meat because it is easy for me. There is no difficulty for me to deny myself this pleasure, for the sake of the healthy food principles and just for the sake of the experiment.
Because, I have trained myself to say “no” to my body and say “yes” to my mind.
For me, the pleasure of twisting the meat down is not the essential criterion for eating, in case I pursue some long-term goals. I find it easy to refuse the pleasure that alcohol brings, I can get up early and do the exercises, whether I like it or not. It is not a great difficulty for me. My body does listen to me.
Are Our Body Desires so Important?
Some of you, who now read the article, may think that it is incredibly difficult to deny yourself pleasures every day. This is not the case. In order to disprove this belief, I wrote about my own experience.
At the moment, for many of you the small pleasures of the body may seem significant and great. You may think that you cannot live without your habits. I assure you, this is just an illusion.
As a child, I thought that it is very difficult to drive a car and be guided in the city at the same time. Now I can easily drive a car and I know where to go and where to turn.
Once you train your body, all its desires become not such considerable and important. Do not think that I preach a monastic way of life, that I urge to get rid of body attachment and become a pure spirit. It is impossible. I just want you to become the masters of your body, not its slaves.
I assure you that this is a great happiness and freedom.
Practice – Start Small
Willpower is like a muscle. To develop it you should be subjected to regular loads. Every time you act contrary to momentary desires, this muscle is growing and strengthening. Once you stop doing it – the muscle becomes flabby and weak.
This is the motto of my website – “start small”. If you go to the gym for the first time, then you will not lift a heavy bar-bell, because in this case you will rupture yourself and you will quit sports. It is better to start with easy exercises. Muscles need to get used to the load slowly, if you haven’t load them before.
There is no need to seek to achieve everything at once. Start with something easy. The following tips will help you move in the right direction.
Do not try to implement all the recommendations that you will see below immediately! They are very difficult for the untrained person. Therefore, assess your own capabilities adequately.
Implement these principles in life gradually, start only with one. For example, for a start include morning exercises in your daily schedule. Try to meditate every day, at least for 10 minutes. Then, when you’re ready, pass to other tips’ performance.
Tip 1 – Organize Your Daily Schedule
Start Getting Up Early
No need to sleep as long as it can go. Try to get up every day at the same time. Your day starts with awakening. If you are on the bit of your body and sleep further on, then the muscle of will is not set in motion and is not warmed.
If after awakening you start being lazy, then later, during the day it is much more difficult to make yourself do something.
But if you make an effort and make yourself get up, even if your body is desperately opposed, you activate your will and stretch this “muscle” at the very beginning of the day. With this, any activity of the day will be easier and more productive.
Physical activity is much easier if you stretched all muscles in the morning. The same thing happens with your willpower.
Sleep and wakefulness schedule is not only an element of discipline; it is very good for your health as well.
Plan Your Work and Follow the Plan
Teach yourself to follow the plan. Set yourself daily, weekly, monthly, or timeless standards and follow them.
- write 3000 words for your article about self-development today
- finish reading this book up to the end
- read one book per month
- wash the dishes after each meal
- clean the hard disk drive monthly
Make it a rule that the work still has to be done and the plan should not be frustrated.
For example, if you have planned to jog three times a week, you can divide the workout sessions by days, as you wish, the only requirement shall be – by the end of the week the plan has to be performed. If you haven’t run today, and today is Sunday already, then you’ll have to run three times that day.
Do Not Put Away for Later
If you do not have any objective reason for not doing what you promised yourself to do – just do it. No matter the laziness and your wish of not doing anything – still do fulfill the promises, learn to get over your “do not want to”. Develop your strong-willed muscle.
It is better to do something now, while you can. Who knows what may happen later? We cannot see the future. What if we have urgent things to do, and then we could not get anything done? If you do everything in time, your life becomes more comfortable and the load of unfinished work does not put pressure on your psyche. I know it from my own experience.
Tip 2 – Go in for Sports
Sport disciplines and develops your willpower perfectly, because physical exercises manifest a constant overcoming of laziness and body resistance. During each session, you have to get over yourself, through muscular fatigue and discomfort.
Many people do not go in for sports: because they lack willpower. But this is a process closed upon you. To raise the bar 100 times in a row, you need physical strength, but if you raise this bar every day, then your power will grow and sooner or later you will do 100 lifts. Start small, remember?
If you still do not exercise, then start doing simple, light exercises in the morning. These exercises should be subject to your daily routine, for example, do exercises 5 times a week.
This practice can boost your willpower and later you could exercise more.
Tip 3 – Be Busy With Trifles Less
Limit the time you spend on a pointless and mind-numbing activity, like watching TV series or social notworking. Read more good quality belles-lettres and training and popular science literature and spend more time outdoors. Improve your skills, learn new from books and from other sources.
Tip 4 – Practise Proper Hygiene
Hygiene – is also an element of discipline, which is subject to strict schedule. Brush your teeth twice a day, wash yourself, take a bath and shave regularly. (I hope everyone does it. I wrote it just in case).
Tip 5 – Maintain Order at home and on your workplace.
Clean your house, wash the dishes and clean the furniture. Arrange the order in your drawers and on your computer’s hard disk drive. Delete the unnecessary files from folders, get rid of inactive contacts in your QIP or Skype list and clean your email from spam. Create a logical directory structure on your computer.
Tip 6 – Keep Your Gastronomic Weaknesses
Eat in fast-food restaurants less often. Learn to cook. Eat more healthy food. Try to cook nutritious and tasty dish for dinner without using meat, at least once a week. This experience can be new and exciting for you.
At least partially, exclude sausages and other nasty things from your diet. Do not eat at night. Read articles about healthy food and try to follow the given recommendations.
If you eat a lot, eat less. Learn to tolerate some hunger. Organize your diet schedule and follow it. Eat three times a day and do not eat anything in between.
Tip 7 – Work on Getting Rid of Bad Habits
Drink alcohol more rarely, quit smoking, or even better, try to quit smoking at all. Each cigarette, each bottle of beer – is a little weakness. These weaknesses lead to our willpower degradation and to the lowest needs’ power over reason.
Tip 8 – Practise Meditation
In Kelly McGonigal’s book – “The Willpower Instinct” – I’ve read very interesting information about the connection between meditation and willpower. Scientific studies have shown that meditation increases the grey matter in the medial prefrontal cortex. Namely this area of the brain is responsible for willpower, while impulsive decisions are led by the central part of it.
“Over time, their [those who are engaged in meditation] brain starts to work as a well-oiled and strong-willed machine”, – says the author of the book. And so it is. Namely regular meditation helped me strengthen my willpower, when I lacked it.
Meditation made me, a lazy and disorganized person, more self-collected and disciplined personality.
Even a single meditation session is able to charge you with “willpower reserve” for the rest of the day. I have noticed that if I do not meditate in the morning, then my “willpower muscle” will be in no tone. Things will go hard and with some resistance, and it would be difficult to overcome temptations and trials. But when I am meditating and doing exercises in the morning, then I transfer the willpower in tone and in full readiness. Things are easy, and plans are implemented!
With meditation you can begin developing your willpower. Include this practice into your daily routine. Meditation helps you relax and get your mind into proper shape. With the practice you can learn to control your emotions and your body.
It was meditation that gave a major push to my personal development. In those times when I just started meditating, I drank, smoked, did not go in for sports, could not plan my own affairs and could not get the job done. All this came later, but it all started with meditation.
This practice disciplines very well, because it requires a rigid schedule: you have to meditate twice a day to achieve the desired effect. You should set everything aside and sit in one position until the session end. You have to focus your attention on breathing or reciting mantra. Every time you start thinking you have to turn back attention to a mental target (breathing, image or mantra). It’s an excellent training for your willpower.
This is far not the most difficult exercise, but, the extremely effective one. I recommend you begin with it. In the article provided by the link How to meditate properly – 5 steps, you can learn about how to meditate correctly.
Don’t Hesitate, Start Improving Willpower Tomorrow!
Start working on your willpower development right tomorrow: get up half an hour earlier and do the morning exercises! Then tell yourself that from now you’ll get up half an hour earlier every morning and will do the exercises.
Let it be your first step towards your willpower development.
I’ve read somewhere that walking on two legs is a very difficult task for our brain. When you walk you are permanently in a state of a controlled falling, your brain sends a lot of signals so that your body will keep the balance.
That is why it is so difficult to teach a robot to move around on two legs. As far as I know, it is an overwhelming task for science. The problem has been solved by the nature long ago.
Your willpower protects you from falling into the abyss of depravity and laziness. While you are awake thousands of small desires attack your brain, and you run the risk of turning opposite the settled course, falling on half a way: “sleep a little more”, “do-it-later”, “you won’t be able, it’s very difficult”, “stop and take rest, your work won’t go away”, etc.
Going to the goal manifests a constant controlled falling. The less you fall, the sooner you will achieve everything you want. But, once you start constantly falling off your feet, your delicate balance will turn into eternal falling to nowhere…